How to Talk to Your Teen About Mental Health
Being a parent is difficult; being a parent of a teenager can feel even harder at times. Dealing with the hormones, the mood swings, testing the limits of their independence, exploration or identity, and the reckless behaviors, all while trying to raise a respectable, kind teenager who makes decent marks in school, can seem like an impossible task.
Raising a teenager in this day and age with unlimited access to electronic devices and social media creates many more channels for bullying and peer pressure, which can take a tremendous toll on your teenager’s mental health. This puts your teen at risk of depression, anxiety, and even suicide. The consequences of not talking to your teen about their mental health can be life-threatening and can affect them deep into their adulthood.
How many teenagers in the world are affected by mental health disorders?
According to the World Health Organization (WHOA):
- “Globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, accounting for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group.
- Depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.
- Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds.
- The consequences of failing to address adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.”
When should I talk to my teenager about their mental health?
Talking about mental health with your teenager should be an ongoing discussion. It does not have to be a formal sit-down conversation, but rather it can be a casual conversation on the way to school, during dinner, or just hanging out watching tv. It is better to start talking to your teenager about their mental health sooner than later. You don’t want to delay this conversation, especially if your teenager is struggling and you are unaware; you don’t want them to worsen. Talking to your teenager early on can also help open the communication channels between you and your teenager so they can come to you if anything comes up.
What should I say?
You can start by asking them how their day was and how they were feeling. You can then mention that you want to talk about the importance of mental health and how teenagers and adults both struggle with mental health issues. Finally, have a couple of books to offer them about how mental health affects teenagers.
Here are a couple of conversation pointers:
- “As a parent, I care about you and your mental health. I want you to know that everyone has bad days and even bad weeks, and if you ever need to talk, I am here for you”.
- “Mental health is often misrepresented in the media, and as a result, many of us do not know that mental health disorders are just like physical health disorders. We need to talk about them so that they can be treated”.
- Ask if they know any friends who are struggling with their mental health.
- Ask if they have ever felt depressed or anxious.
- Maybe share an experience about yourself or a loved one that pertains to mental health so your teenager can relate to you in this way.
- Ask if they feel safe at school, are bullied at school, or feel like they have a solid support group or friends.
What if my teenager comes to me about their mental health?
If your teenager comes to you and tells you that they are struggling with their mental health, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. This means your teenager trusts you enough to open up about their internal battles. Take a moment to tell them how much you love and appreciate them and thank them for coming to you.
- Take their concerns seriously: Your teenager is telling you about some tough stuff they are dealing with, so listen without judgment and allow them to speak openly. Once they are done speaking, ask them questions. Ask them how they are feeling, how they are sleeping, and if they are eating. Ask them if there is anything going on at school that you should know about, such as bullying, feeling left out or poor academic performance. Try to ask them open-ended questions in a compassionate manner to try to understand the “what” and the “why” of how they are feeling. Ask them if they are having thoughts about hurting themselves or others. Ask them if there is anything that you can do for them at this moment to make them feel better.
- Talk about therapy: if your teenager is struggling, it may be a good idea to see a therapist who treats teenagers and adolescents. As a parent, you want to support your teenage son or daughter. However, you do not have the education or professional training and background to offer them clinical advice and make a diagnosis. This is where a professional comes into the picture. Ask your teenager what they know about therapy and if they would be open to meeting with a therapist.
- Continue to check in with them: Mental health conversations are ongoing, and it is important to continue to check in with your teenager to see how they are feeling and how they are coping.